Summary of Council decision:
Two issues were investigated, of which one was Not upheld and one was Upheld.
The website www.steampowered.com, seen on 11 and 12 June 2015, featured a range of games, each of which was shown with a price, along with a higher price that was crossed out and a percentage discount claim. For example, Grand Theft Auto V was labelled “-25% £51.98 [crossed out] £38.98” and Wolfenstein: The New Order was accompanied by “-75% £34.99 [crossed out] £8.74”.
1. The complainants challenged whether the savings claims were misleading because they understood the prices of products had been inflated before the claimed discounts were applied.
2. Some of the complainants also challenged whether the savings claim for Grand Theft Auto V was misleading, because they understood the price related to a package rather than only the game itself.
1. & 2. Valve Corporation t/a Steam said the discounts were part of their annual online summer sale, which ran from 11 to 20 June 2015. Individual game publishers and developers determined whether products would be included in the sale and the prices that would be charged for them. The stand-alone Grand Theft Auto game, which normally sold for £39.99, was not reduced. However, the claims that stated it was £38.98, with a saving of 25%, had appeared on the website in error for around three hours at the start of the sale. They said the price claims were the same as those for a separate Grand Theft Auto bundle, which was included in the sale. Because that type of bundle had not been offered before, their software had mislabelled the stand-alone game. They had removed the claims related to the game once they became aware of the error.
The bundle that included the Grand Theft Auto game and a ‘great white shark cash card’ was a new product created for the sale. The cash card usually sold for £11.99 but the combined price of the bundle was £38.98, which was a discount of £13, or 25%, from the combined total of the two stand-alone items. Steam said the game had been sold on their site at the ‘was’ price of £39.99 since its launch in April 2015 and the cash card had been available at £11.99, also since April 2015 when it had been available as an in-game product only. They had started to offer the external version of the cash card, which was also £11.99, on 6 June.
Steam said the ‘was’ price of £34.99 for Wolfenstein: The New Order had been charged since May 2014 and the sale price represented a discount of 75% as advertised. They submitted details of the price histories of both Wolfenstein: The New Order and Grand Theft Auto V on days when the products were purchased.
1. Not upheld
The ASA noted that there had been an error in the pricing of the Grand Theft Auto game and that it was not available at a discounted price as claimed. While we were concerned about that, as set out below, we understood from the information Steam submitted that the price of the item had not risen prior to the sale.
We noted the claims for the Wolfenstein game stated that consumers could make a saving of 75% on the previous price of £34.99, which we considered would be understood to represent a genuine saving against the usual selling price of the product at the time the ad appeared. While Steam stated that the Wolfenstein game had been available for £34.99 since May 2014, the data they submitted related only to March to June 2015. However, we noted that although the item had been £17.49 for one day before the sale began, sales of the product had been made at £34.99 throughout that period, which amounted to over three months. We therefore considered that £34.99 represented the usual selling price of the product at the time the ad appeared, as claimed, and concluded that the claims were not misleading.
On that point, we investigated the ad under CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 3.1 3.1 Marketing communications must not materially mislead or be likely to do so. (Misleading advertising), 3.7 3.7 Before distributing or submitting a marketing communication for publication, marketers must hold documentary evidence to prove claims that consumers are likely to regard as objective and that are capable of objective substantiation. The ASA may regard claims as misleading in the absence of adequate substantiation. (Substantiation) and 3.17 3.17 Price statements must not mislead by omission, undue emphasis or distortion. They must relate to the product featured in the marketing communication. (Prices), but did not find it in breach.
We noted the claims related to the Grand Theft Auto game had appeared in error for around a three-hour period and that the item was not included in the promotion. While we acknowledged that the claims had been duplicated, and were intended to relate only to a separate product bundle, we noted the two items appeared side-by-side, which we considered consumers were likely to understand to mean that both the game and the bundle were included in the sale.
We noted the claims for the game stated that consumers could make a saving of 25% on the previous price of £51.98, which we considered would be understood to represent a genuine saving against the usual selling price of the product at the time the ad appeared. However, we understood that was not the case and it had instead been sold by Steam at £39.99, rather than £51.98, since the date of its launch. Because a 25% saving was not available on the usual selling price of the product at the time the ad appeared, as claimed, we concluded that it was misleading.
On this point, the ad breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 3.1 3.1 Marketing communications must not materially mislead or be likely to do so. (Misleading advertising) and 3.17 3.17 Price statements must not mislead by omission, undue emphasis or distortion. They must relate to the product featured in the marketing communication. (Prices).
The ad must not appear again in its current form. We told Steam to ensure their future savings claims did not mislead about the benefits available.